25 July 2006

Infantilism in the blogosphere

Soci, the founder of Singabloodypore, loves to go on about how infantile the local blogosphere is. That was last April, I believe. Half a year later, there was a solicitation for co-contributors for SBP. What had me sold was this vision of a non-infantile blogosphere:
I have often contemplated the idea of running a 'socio-political blog' about Singapore that allows contributions from the public, other than just comments and has a group of editors monitoring the content.
It was all it took, really, and I began writing for SBP in October. You'll have to understand it was a time of opportunities. By 2004, SBP had become a news aggregator site where Soci would cut and paste entire news articles without comment or analysis. His call for contributors and fellow editors, could that be a start of a new blog? At that time, anything was possible. Or perhaps at that time, I believed anything was possible.

This was my statement of intent, as well as a sort of acceptance email to his call for co-contributors:
If the blog is run along the lines of crookedtimber.org, obsidianwings.blogs.com, savageminds.org, or long-sunday.net - ie. with group contributors who run/edit the site and with serious and sustained comments by contributors and members of the public, I'm all game for it.

If, on the other hand, you envision a super singaporean sociopolitical news aggregator blog along the lines of boingboing or tomorrow, where the emphasis is more on posting rather than developing a good idea from an original post through replies in the comments section, the site will have my support but I will NOT join in the running of the endeavor.
Yet almost a year later, I am still waiting for my fellow contributors - Soci included - to actually write their own articles instead of cut and pasting articles written by other people. Was there a policy message I missed somewhere down the line? Or did I not get the memo that said "Given the precarious legal position of bloggers, contributors of SBP are advised to write as little of their own opinion or analysis as possible, to protect themselves"?

With every 50-line article SBP contributors cut and paste, a little bit of our collective credibility dies. And we do this, 5 articles a day on average. What SBP has become is indeed a blog with more emphasis on posting, than on developing ideas and discussions. Indiscriminate and voluminous cut-pasting sends out a signal to all readers that the contributors don't respect the blog they run.

And so, SBP gets the readership that it deserves: hordes of anonymouses posting one liners, mostly non sequiturs. Some are spammers, like the commentor who cut/pastes entire falunggong news articles to comment on any blog post, regardless of relevance. Or ranters who just feel great posting their angry denunciations of the gahmen. All done as one-liners, of course. SBP has become a platform for anonymouses to rant and post non sequitors.

You know, once upon a time I thought the sammyboymod forums were pretty wild. Discussions there would start off fine and brilliant, but always degenerate into shouting matches by the third page. Once upon an even longer time, I thought soc.culture.singapore was the gutter of political commentary and discussion in cyberspace. Today, I am forced to change my opinion. Singabloodypore is the new gutter of online political discussion.

Indiscriminate cut/pasting encourages rants and indiscriminate commenting. Neighbourhoods with broken windows, and all that. The failure of SBP members to moderate comments, to guide discussions to a higher ground of analysis and insightful commentary, the wilful policy of benign neglect - all this encourage even more indiscriminate commenting. I have noticed, as have other contributors, the precipitous decline in the tone and quality of comments, coupled with a marked rise in anonymous commentors.

Today, Singabloodypore looks like a slum. The main column is cluttered with miles of cut-and-pasted content that go on and on. We could excerpt just one or two paragraphs, and then use either article truncation or just provide links, if we just want to cut and paste. The side bar is cluttered with too many links. Singabloodypore has not just become a site that I would not personally want to read, it has not just become a site that I do not want to be associated with, it has become the most infantile political site in Singapore's blogosphere. In fact, far more infantile than the sites Soci made fun of last April.

23 July 2006

Imperial Overreach, redux

Being my sole comment on the entire Mr Brown affair. And I assure you, despite the lateness of my foray, that still no one - not even the brightest of our political bloggers - no one can think like I do, and write as I do.

Imperial Overreach

Occurs when organisational forces attempt to push the limits of their power from a stable configuration.

Typically through an extreme move or a hardline statement, going above and beyond established and accepted principles.

While achieving momentary shock, the move or statement are inconsistent with existing principles, hence untenable, unsustainable, and plain illogical.

Overreach occurs when the population is insufficiently shocked to accept the new proposed standards, or when the organisation is unprepared to back up its new stance and backpedals to the old status quo.

The government this, the government that

Most reactions in the blogosphere make the key assumption that Bhavani's vehement outburst was

1. Officially sanctioned by the Cabinet and the PM
2. Made in her official capacity as a spokesperson for MICA/MITA

leading to the conclusion that

3. Bhavani's smackdown is just the latest manifestation of the age-old plan of our Evil Overlords to curtail freedom of expression.

Bloggers below the age of 25 who made this argument may be forgiven for their ignorance; bloggers like Tan Tarn Howe and Cherian George who made this argument should be viewed with suspicion by any reader - they of all people should know better.

Applying imperial overreach to Bhavani, MITA, and Brown

Nothing profitable comes out of viewing history as a continuous procession of "always has beens". Only when we cast our vision on the continuous erruptions, discontinuities, and zero points of history and discourse can we understand when something profoundly new has taken place, or whether something is truly the same old, same old, or whether imperial overreach has occured.

Just for fun:

1. State MITA's public stance on journalists, their role on political discourse, and the function of the press. State how MITA coordinates its doctrine with the media.

MITA's preferred model of the media can be summed up in the phrase "Nation-building press". It goes back to George Yeo's long reign in the ministry, and every 5 years or so, the Chief Editor of ST would remind everyone in his annual ST anniversary Op-ed that the Straits Times does not wish to adhere to the Western notion of a Fourth Estate imposing curbs and exercising oversight on the national leadership. The press in Singapore is a Fourth Estate that is responsible to frame and present issues to occasion the happy reception of national policy to its citizen-readers, and promote the affections of the public for their leaders.

The Straits Times takes the side, advocates for the Whiteshirt government, and says so brazenly in every other anniversary Op-ed. This policy and stance has been worked out with MITA oversight and approval, and Bhavani is a batshit loony or very, very ignorant of long-standing MITA press policy when she says "It is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government", or "If a columnist presents himself as a non-political observer...". Highly amusing, somewhat.

2. Name a single occasion when MITA spoke out against journalists in public.

Gee, I certainly can't think of any previous occasions! Cherian and Tan, please take your potshots at me now.

3. State the preferred means and method of rapping journalists' knuckles.

That's because MITA *never* castigates, bodyslams, or gives journalists the smackdown. What is the standard procedure, the historically informed method then? Cherian can answer this, right? The PermSec of either the Minister or the Prime Minister, or the PM himself will do the bodyslamming. Always with a humorous touch, just to show that "even if we believe Mr George got a few facts wrong, he is most certainly welcome to air them, since we will set the facts right. Of course, he is most certainly welcome to air his views, since Singapore got press freedom mah ; )"

Mr George, isn't that essentially how lighthearted your rapping by the PM's PermSec was? Mdm Bhavani, as a PR lecturer, don't you agree your letter to the Today forum page is a classic example of a big character poster (大字报), and far more shrill and poisonous than a Malaysian poison pen letter? Were you hoping that Mr Brown would start walking around the streets with a self-criticism saying "I, Lee Kin Mun, hereby confess to the crime of being a dirty counterrevolutionary, a rightist, and a collaborator. I hereby volunteer myself to 30 years of re-education and hard labour in the countryside"?

As we may notice, Bhavani is not the PermSec to Lee Boon Yang, Balakrishnan, or Balaji. Bhavani is not the PermSec to Minilee, Papalee, or Peanut Goh. Bhavani is a peanut of a mid-level bureaucrat who has embarrassed MICA, the Cabinet, and her political masters by violating protocol, precedence, and contradicting the ministry's long-standing doctrines.

We may have also noticed the off-the-cuff statements by Balakrishnan and his superior, Lee Boon Yang, on the Brown affair.

4. When multiple Whiteshirt ministers speak on the same issue, they will take care to reinforce the rhetoric of the original speaker, and not to contradict any claims made by that speaker. Y/N

Balakrishnan and LBY have commented on the issue. They are bound not to overturn Bhavani's claims, but they made a conscious refusal to adopt or repeat her rhetoric: "distort the truth", "polemic", "encourage cynicism and despondancy", et al. Instead of repeating the Bhavani doctrine that "it is not the role of journalists or newspapers in Singapore to champion issues, or campaign for or against the Government", LBY again reiterated the nation-building role of the press.

Imperial overreach: Balakrishnan and LBY are unprepared to back up Bhavani, and backpedal to the old status quo.

If we had a real press instead of the clown show at Today, The New Paper and The Straits Times, we would have reporters continually asking the 3 ministers at MICA:

Where oh where are you, Balaji? Enquiring minds want to know why you're silent on the Brown affair!
Will the Ministers confirm who approved and cleared Mdm Bhavani to write her letter condemning Brown?
Mdm Bhavani, as a lecturer in a PR college for civil servants, do you feel your letter was a model of what not to write as a civil servant?
Will the Ministers explain why they have not referred to Mdm Bhavani's letter, or to the terms she used to castigate Mr Lee Kin Mun, nor her comments on the role of journalists?

My predictions:
Bhavani to be thrown to the lions.
Lee Boon Yang to be kicked upstairs to the Prime Minister's Office as a Minister without Portfolio by year's end.

16 July 2006

On film censorship in Singapore

There's an interesting thread going on in Singabloodypore, sparked off by my fellow contributor Clyde posting a clip from Youtube, of Royston Tan's Cut, a diatribe and musical condemning the Film Censorship Board's historic and boundless butchering of films.

You'll have to understand it was made in 2004, shortly after the Film Censorship Board made an incredible 37 cuts to his arthouse homoerotic gangster film 15. You'll have to understand that in Q4 2005, the Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) announced a broad restructuring of the censorship system, such that
Distributors indicate preferred ratings upon submission. The Board of Film Censors (BFC) assesses if the film is suitable for the requested rating. If not, the BFC will suggest an alternative rating. Distributors may either accept the BFC's recommendation or edit the film to meet the guidelines for their preferred rating.
Anonymous posters in SBP charge that this is a purely cosmetic change, that "though MDA censorship board no longer cuts films, they can tell "distributors to edit the film" till MDA approves - which is just as good as cutting films.

You'll have to understand that the changes made to the Film Classification Board puts Singapore's film censorship procedures in line with that of the US MPAA film classification process.

You'll also have to understand that the claims made by various anonymouses about the cosmetic changes to Singapore's film censorship system can be easily verified or disproved. Surely any of you can click on this link to the Film Classification Database with me, and look at the films of 2006.

1. Controversial films with sexual content

Basic Instinct 2. R21. Passed with cuts. Of course, audiences need to be protected from sex scenes starring a 47 year old Sharon Stone.
Brokeback Mountain. R21. Passed Clean.
C.R.A.Z.Y. M18. Passed Clean.
Combien tu M'aimes (How much do you love me?). R21. Passed Clean.
Capote. NC16. Passed Clean.
Ask the Dust. R21. Passed Clean. Salma Hayek's rocks rock!
4:30. NC16. Passed Clean. Disturbing images of a 13 year old snipping of sleeping adult's pubic hair didn't get the chief censor incensed. Royston Tan complaineth too much.
Zombie Dogs. R21. Passed Clean.
Kinky Boots. PG. Passed Clean. Sympathetic account of drag queens.
The Hours. M18 DVD. Passed Clean. Lesbian kiss survives.
Chicago. M18 DVD/VCD. Passed Clean.

2. Simply controversial films believed to be blasphemous by fundie Christians
The Da Vinci Code. NC16. Passed Clean. Take that, NCCS!

3. Horror films. Presumbly the biggest beef in "Cut" was the rampant censoring out of all gore in horror films. In 2006, has anything changed?

The Devil's Rejects. M18. Passed Clean.
Boo. NC 16. Passed Clean.
House of the Dead. R21. Passed Clean.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003 remake). RA. Passed CLEAN on second submission even though distributor didn't do any censorship or cutting on their own.
Frostbiten. NC16. Passed Clean.
Saw II. Distributor submitted one uncut version for M18 and one self-edited version for NC16. Both PASSED Clean without tampering from the censors.
Mortuary. NC 16. Passed Clean

All gore in horror films are intact in 2006.

Verdict: Anonymouses should just do some research before shooting off your mouths and indulging in masturbatory spiels, conspiracy theories, and rants on how the film censorship board is oppressing you.

Verdict: Since the liberalisation of film censorship and the reformation of the Film Censorship Board into a proper Film Classification Board, much less censorship has been exercised, with horror/controversial/sex-themed movies moving into NC16, M18 and R21 categories, where they tend to be overwhelming Passed Clean, i.e. passed without cuts.

13 July 2006

Imperial Overreach

Being the last in the triptych of comments on Char, Wong Kan Seng, and the NCCS

Imperial Overreach

Occurs when organisational forces attempt to push the limits of their power from a stable configuration.

Typically through an extreme move or a hardline statement, going above and beyond established and accepted principles.

While achieving momentary shock, the move or statement are inconsistent with existing principles, hence untenable, unsustainable, and plain illogical.

Overreach occurs when the population is insufficiently shocked to accept the new proposed standards, or when the organisation is unprepared to back up its new stance and backpedals to the old status quo.

I write this in the light of the police dropping the investigation against Char.

The acquital without formal charges proves overreach - not just by Wong Kan Seng and the police, but by the NCCS and the fringe fundamentalists in Singapore. We witness the breaching of several commonsensical rules:

7. The police should never be used as a tool of frivolous investigation. DPM Wong's asinine announcement that the police will investigate all and any complaints against anti-religious bloggers breaches this rule.

8. There must either be clear guidelines over what on earth is truly offensive to Christians, or investigations should never be held unless there arise pictures that actually incite a supermajority of Christians into possible violence.

8a. Will the NCCS have the guts to seize upon the momentum it has built over the past 5 years, and mutate into the National Circle-jerk of Christian Muftis? Will any Protestant really allow such a body to make essentially pronouncements on church doctrine?

8b. Liberal Christians who have either quit the established churches in light of the recent shift to fundamentalism in the churches during the past 10 years, or have remained silent but not exactly happy campers, will never allow the fundamentalists to make a grab in defining religious doctrine and matters of "sedition" and "blasphemy". Disengaged as they are from formal church politics, the possibility of a backlash by liberal Christians has prevented the mufti-wannabes of the NCCS from speaking out on the Char issue.

8c. Objectively speaking, there was never any majority of Christians wildly offended by Char's pictures. Speaking as a Christian, I find those pictures rather funny, somewhat infantile, but never that insulting. And some of them had nothing to do with Christianity at all.

9. The NCCS should remember what the censorship board and the MDA said when the mufti-wannabes tried to send a secret letter to the ministry to ban the Da Vinci Code movie. The reply, if I recall, was "Fuck off". Grown adults, including Christians, are able to differentiate between fact and fiction. Why a secret letter? I do suppose there was a sizeable fraction of Christians who would not have been comfortable with the idea of the NCCS trying to ban a movie in their names.

9a. What has always been allowed cannot be disallowed. It's bad precedent, for example, to ban any and all depictions of Jesus Christ now, because we HAVE allowed the Da Vinci Code to be screened.

We have allowed Bruce Almighty to be screened.

There was no police investigation or sedition charges thrown at any Singaporean who has made "Father, Son and Holy Goh" jokes since 1992.

Al Franken's Lies: And the lying liars who tell them continues to be sold openly in Singapore's bookshops despite its depiction of a certain Supply-side Jesus.

T-shirts saying "God, save me from your followers!" are still widely available at any good pasar malam or streetwear store.

10. Note to the ever-opportunistic National Circle-jerk of Christian (i.e. Protestant, with self-appointed representatives from Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Rev Kong Hee's church) Muftis: My Jesus forgives your Jesus.

10 July 2006

Flash Mob for Mr Brown

Excerpts from the AFP:
Supporters of a Singaporean blogger have gathered at a busy subway station for a silent protest at the suspension of his weekly newspaper column after the government criticised his latest satirical piece about high living costs.

At least 30 supporters turned up at City Hall station at 2:00 pm dressed in brown attire in support of the blogger, who goes by the moniker Mr Brown.

Unfortunately for the news wire agency, the real news wasn't that 30 people in Singapore bothered to take part in a flash mob for a proscribed blogger-columnist. I could think of several more newsworthy stories on the top of my head, such as:

How did a secret SMS-only invite leak out to the press, which turned up in battle positions and recording equipment shoved up the noses of participants, even before the flash mob was scheduled to begin?

Or how's this for a more newsworthy story:
Plainclothes police accost flash mob participants at end of event

At least 2 participants were approached Citylink mall by 4 plainclothes police operatives after the flash mob event concluded. The operatives presented themselves to the duo, requesting a "short and private discussion at a more private place".

The operatives, marshalled in a line formation, herded the two to a remote corner of the underground mall, where they proceeded to ask the following questions:
Who organised this protest?
How did you know about this protest?
What are the names of the people who informed you of this protest? What are the names of the people you informed, in turn?

And the winner: Look, we know all about this protest. You better cooperate with us and tell us the truth.

Thankfully one of the cornered persons did read up on his rights, as well as the extent of cooperation citizens are bound to give to plainclothes operatives presenting themselves without a warrant or charges, and gave them his name, his lawyer's contacts, and told them to fuck off.

Several, even more newsworthy issues present themselves in the aftermath:
1. Flash mob sparks police actions by government
2. Seeing the flash mob as a bona fide protest, Wong Kan Seng, the Minister for Home Affairs, does not send in the riot police.
3. Instead, the clown show is mobilised.

Apparently there is no formal investigation, no indication that said flash mob is an illegal and destablising event, so what the MHA and Wong can do is send in the clown squad and hope that the idea of plainclothes operatives asking questions and claiming to know everything about the event... will actually scare off the participants, make them piss in their pants, and scar them for life. Remember, kids: for real protests and destabilising events, the riot police is used. When the authorities want to stage a political comedy, they send in plainclothes operatives!

But really, this flash mob was rather lame. People showed up and stood around. No silly waving, cheers, synchronised actions or what have you. No immediate and sudden dispersal. And the best part? People who didn't get the message won't get the message at all. So much for a flash mob for Mr Brown.

Don't get me started on the organiser's horrendously unironic satorical decision wear brown shirts to support a columnist who was unfairly axed. This is what you get when Singapore's artistes pose as political activists.

Ladies and gentlemen, the continuing clown show from Wong Kan Seng. As if the dropping of the police investigation against Char isn't embarrassing enough, they send in a clown show against a not-very-successful or well-planned and conceptualised flash mob.

06 July 2006

Down with the NCCS!

The high fever stretched over the weekend, made a detour into a lung infection, finally diagnosed by SGH. With new medication, I can look forward to a fever-free week, with scattered wooziness and weird-tasting saliva as the only side effect. That, and reduced breathing capacity until some therapist gets my lungs working at 100% again.

To recap from the last instalment, one apparently Christian person complained to the police that pictures depicting Jesus on Char's site were presumably offensive to Christians.

Question: Does this warrant an investigation? Does this warrant the investigating officer to recommend to Char not just to take down the pictures, but shut down his blog?

Although the police and Wong Kan Seng have decided to investigate this case as if it were already a potentially seditious case, they have been expecting an official stand from the NCCS to cover their overreaction. When that was not forthcoming, the clown show over at the Straits Times did an article on Saturday 19 June trying to put the question to Religious Experts.

Why do the police, Wong and the Straits Times think a National Council of Churches is the appropriate body to answer the question: were the pictures really seditious?

Noting first that the clown show at the Straits Times apparently did not bother to show the interviewees the actual photos, nor were the interviewees interested to find out before issuing their replies to the clown show, of interest to us are two statements in that article:

4. From the chairman of Centre for Contemporary Islamic Studies, Ridzuan Wu: "images char posted were unlikely to cause a strong reaction... because Muslim societies have a stronger tradition of condemning blasphemy through legal action."

What is blasphemy in Muslim societies? Presumably any visual depiction of the prophets, humorous or not. We hope Ridzuan Wu is clear that this does not mean any visual depiction of Christ is therefore automatically blasphemous in a Christian context, but what he says is indeed true: these images, whatever they may be, are unlikely to cause any kind of strong reaction, any kind of mass reaction amongst Christians, even in Singapore.

5. To understand why, we must first take a look at the giant turd laid by Anglican Bishop John Chew, the vice president of the National Council of Churches: "We cannot say that just because the west has allowed these pictures to be freely available, we should accept them."

Setting aside for the moment the fact that this does not constitute an official statement from the NCCS, or the fact that the clown show at the Straits Times didn't bother to get clear in what capacity John Chew was speaking in, Bishop John Chew is clearly talking out of his arse when he cannot accept that... just because the west has allowed these pictures to be freely available, we should should accept them.

Historically, rival Christians have been making caricatures of their opponent's beliefs. That's part of a long Greek rhetorical tradition. Historically, under the signs of the printing press and the Protestant Reformation, rival Christians have drawn very seditious pictures, for example, of popes being advised by devils, with 'idolatry' and 'superstition' on papal vestments. Christ himself has been caricatured in cartoons by Voltaire, Sade and others - who didn't get stoned by Christians or accused of sedition by the police, whose pictures sparked off no riots amongst Christians. That is Protestantism for you, and a history lesson for the shockingly ignorant Bishop John Chew.

Let us note therefore, that caricatures of Jesus Christ rivalling or (given that Voltaire drew some of them) even exceeding the cheekiness of the Char pics, do exist from post-Reformation periods onwards. Somewhere on the internets is an archive of them. Somewhere in real life is an exhibit of them. Nowhere in this reality - one that John Chew apparently does not partake of - are there riots or even morally, religiously insulted Christians. It is almost a Christian tradition already lah.

6. The National Council of Churches Singapore is...

Contrary to expectations, NCCS is not a religious high council of Protestant Churches in Singapore. Despite its posturing, the NCCS does not dictate ecclesiastical decisions on its member churches. Despite its official sounding name, NCCS does not function as a National Council of Christian Muftis. Despite its aura of officialness and representativeness, NCCS statements are non-binding on member churches, local pastors are not legally or religiously bound to agree with any of its statements.

What then is the NCCS? The body was set up in 1948. Since then, the organisation, far from representing all Protestants in Singapore, has suffered ups and downs, and has experienced a surge only in recent years. To put it bluntly, the NCCS has a temporarily high profile today thanks to its opportunism. These actions have catapulted it to the public eye, above and beyond its natural capacity -

Signing the declaration of religious harmony
Issuing a statement on homosexuality
Issuing a statement on the casino issue
Issuing a statement to back the banning of the Mohammed cartoons
Issuing a private and secret letter to the MDA on The Da Vinci Code

What is apparent: the National Council of Churches dares not do unpopular things. Its only activity is discursive and declamatory.

1. Any Protestant worth their salt will point out the absurdity of a Protestant organisation condemning caricatures of Christ.
2. There are a significant amount of liberal Christians and church leaders who are in opposition to the NCCS on the condemnation of Char's actions.
3. This significant, if minority opposition, is what keeps the NCCS from issuing any official statement on this matter.
4. Liberal Christians who were already annoyed at how the NCCS took it upon themselves to negotiate with MDA on a movie they didn't think amounted to much, will be even more annoyed and possibly outraged if the NCCS proceeds to condemn Char.

Charting the recent history of the NCCS through its statements, several propositions can be made:
1. An upward and accelerating sense of importance
2. An attempt - intentional or expected by the state by now - to serve as a National Council of Christian Muftis.
3. The impossibility of 2 points towards an eventual jumping of the shark by the organisation. Their letter to the MDA might just be that.

The NCCS should just give up and die.